Friday, July 29, 2016



July 21, 1891, one hundred and twenty five years ago today, was arguably the most important day in the history of Dublin and Laurens County. That superlative statement could be argued about, but it was on that hot humid summer day when the first train from Macon, Georgia arrived in town and it was the first time that people and vehicles crossed the first permanent passenger bridge over the Oconee River at Dublin.

In the cool of that Monday morning, a small crowd gathered at the depot at the lower end of Walnut Street in Macon.  They were there to celebrate the completion of the 54-mile railroad, subsidized by the investment of more than one hundred thousand dollars by large and small farmers. The four-year project's success was assured when H.S. Morse was appointed as the superintendent and James T. Wright was elected president.  The Illinois and Georgia Improvement Company supplied the rest of the capital investment.  The new railroad would shorten the distance to Macon by 35 miles by eliminating the need to travel through Wrightsville and Tennille to the Central before making a left turn back to Macon.

Not one, but two, trains, crammed with railroad officials, their wives and a host of influential investors and supporters under the direction of Conductor J.B. Maxon pulled out the depot eastward bound.  D.G. Hughes of Danville and  H.S. Morse, president of the Illinois and Georgia Improvement Company, headed the list of dignitaries on board.  

   Passing through stops at Swift Creek, Dry Branch, Pike’s Peak and Fitzpatrick, the  trains stopped in the booming community of Jeffersonville, the capital of Twiggs County, where a jubilation erupted.  Railroad vice president and founder,  Dudley M. Hughes, (left)  boarded the train during a celebration in his hometown of Allentown.

A large delegation of Dubliners and Laurens Countians, commanded by Mercer Haynes, E.E. Hicks, Charles Brantley, and Dr. Wood, boarded and commandeered the lead train, which was quickly and handsomely decorated with flowers and evergreens by the ladies of Dublin and Allentown.  The trains rushed through the infant towns of Montrose, the home of the orchards of founder, Col.  John M. Stubbs, and Elsie (Dudley) to the shouts of unrestrained joy.

In Dublin, an estimated crowd of 3000 people - believed to have been one of the largest crowds ever to assemble in town -  was excitedly waiting, ready for the train and what it would mean to their communities.

And then the wail of the whistle blew sending the crowd into a frenzy.  The train stopped and all of its passengers deboarded for a short walk over to a shady grove of trees where a barbecue was held.  Off to the east, the passengers could hear the sounds of brass music and the report of canon saluting their arrival. There was no estimate of how much meat was consumed that day, but more than a thousand loaves of bread were served to the hungry throng.

While the feast ensued, the train moved down the road to the center of town. Another celebration erupted.  Everyone, dressed in their best attire, smiled and cheered as Dublin’s rise from the previous dormant decades following the late war was really and truly beginning.  The Dublin Light Infantry, led by Lieutenant J.M. Adams, performed snappy maneuvers for the crowds.

Then the unthinkable happened.  The heavens opened up and a torrent of rain fell in a futile attempt to extinguish the excitement.   Everyone scattered into the stores and  homes in the area.  The grounds that were saturated with people only minutes before were nearly deserted.

Col. Stubbs' (left) family played host to some honored guests.  His home was located on his  farm which stretched east to west from North Church Street to Calhoun Street and north to south from Bellevue Avenue to Moore Street.  At 4:00, the train, now carrying all of the passenger cars, returned to Macon.

Some of the first freight trains carried off loads of the evil whiskey, which Dublin’s prohibitionists had recently succeeding in banning from the town.

Railroad officials intended to complete the road to Savannah at once. When a nationwide financial  panic occurred,  the effort was abandoned.  A number of times capitalists offered to buy any number of bonds the road might issue in order to enable it to finish the line to Savannah, but those offers were summarily declined, as the price offered for the bonds were not considered enough.

The Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad began its eastward expansion in 1901 to Vidalia and eventually on to its terminus in Savannah.  As railroads go, the M.D. & S.  was fairly successful but it could never quite effectively compete with the all powerful Central of Georgia.   Today, the tracks are still in operation.

While most of the fervent excitement and media attention was focused on the railroad, an equally  important, but less visible, occurrence happening that day, was the opening of the first permanent passenger bridge over the Oconee at the foot of East Jackson Street.

The bridge was the dream of John T. Duncan, Laurens County’s Judge of the Court of Ordinary. Judge Duncan spearheaded the effort to build a passenger bridge to replace the outdated and inefficient Dublin Ferry.   Turned down primarily by voters in the outlying areas of the county, Judge Duncan never lost sight of his goal.

A wooden bridge was constructed in conjunction with Dr. Robert Hightower, but it fell victim to a torrential freshet which washed it away.   Duncan, the unofficial county manager, issued an order in 1888 to sell bonds in the amount of $15,000.00 to complete the a sturdy concrete and steel bridge.  Engineer George H. Crafts, of Atlanta, brought the project to a completion, slightly over his budget, but substantially on time.

On August 3, 1891, just twelve days after his dream came true, Judge Duncan died. The pall cast over the city of one of its most beloved citizens quickly lifted as the populace realized what an enduring legacy the judge had left to the city.

In conjunction with the opening of the new bridge was the completion of the bridge of the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad opening the way for two railroads to come into Dublin.

So it was on these hot, humid days in the summer of 1891, that a new era for Dublin and Laurens County began.  It was a new and golden age, one, with few exceptions, which has lasted for 125 years and spanning three centuries.